Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Losing Leia, Living Lent

 A couple of Sundays ago we decided to skip church.  Jack was getting over strep.  Matt was trying to recover from some bug he has yet to get over.  Our dog, Leia, was sick.  And I was tired.  Jack envisioned a morning of video games.  Matt envisioned a nap.  I envisioned coffee and the Sunday paper. 

Amélie envisioned church at home.  She planned the service, lined up chairs in our dining room, and gave us all pieces of paper with instructions.  We took turns reading until we had finished the book of Jonah.  She read an illustrated version of the story to her five-year-old brother, and then she asked us questions about the text.  I then read the day’s selection from the book, Bringing Lent Home with Mother Teresa, and we all wrote or drew pictures on the flowers and leaves for our Easter tree.  We wrote out things we were thankful for on the flowers: thanks for snow days, for family, for our fireplace.  We wrote our prayer requests on the leaves: for more snow days, for mom to have another baby (NO!), for our dog Leia’s sick tummy. 

Then we finished up our church service by gathering around the piano and singing the old hymns “Blessed Assurance” and “Day by Day.”  It was lovely.  It was beautiful.  My heart swelled with love for my sweet family. 
We had a beautiful day, a sweet blessing tucked in the middle of trying to live out the Lenten season—to live out life—with grace and meaning.    

As that week progressed, our dog became sicker.  I took her to the vet two more times.  They finally found the problem that hadn’t shown up on the first x-ray: a bowel obstruction.  Our vet didn’t want to perform the surgery because she feared it would be too complicated.  We scheduled the surgery for the next day with a new doctor and took her home. 
I carried Leia up to bed and watched her through the night.  I was so afraid that she would die before she made it to surgery the next morning.  I counted down the hours.  I felt her for breath.  I watched for movement, even the familiar trembling that let me know she was in pain.  I cried.  I prayed.  I read from Kathleen Norris’ book Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life about her husband’s death, how he, a lapsed Catholic, loved the words from compline, “May the Lord grant us a peaceful night, and a perfect end.”  I read about waiting: “[We] know the pain of the wee hours, when the dark of night matches the state of our souls” (221).  And then: “Both physical and mental pain are often worse at night, and sometimes it is the waiting for the dawn that is worst of all” (222).  I read those words, and I felt those words, in the very core of my being.  I ached with the pain of waiting, the fear of waiting, the exhaustion of waiting. 

When it was morning, we all gathered around Leia and said goodbye.  We cried.  But I felt relief as Matt wrapped her in a blanket and carried her into his truck.  The surgery went well.  Our silly dog, who subsisted on a life of plastic (supplemented by dog food and table scraps) had somehow eaten hair(?), which had severed her intestines.  The vet repaired the holes, and all looked well.  I slept much better that night, and before I fell asleep I prayed the Petition:
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep.  Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.  Amen.

I was comforted to believe that I was praying for Leia when I asked God to “soothe the suffering,” but I was convinced that I was not praying for her when I prayed, “bless the dying.” 
I was wrong.  The next morning Matt called me at 8:48.  Leia was crashing, and Matt was on his way to the vet.  Leia died while Matt stroked her fur and cried.   When he came home and told us the news, we all collapsed on the couch in sobbing mess.  Amélie wailed, “But she was my baby!” and “Why would God let this happen?” 

I didn’t have an answer on March 8th. 
I don’t have an answer today. 

Yes, she was just a dog.  I know that our grief over an energetic  two-year-old Jack Russell is nothing compared to the grief of losing a child, a parent, a grandparent, a friend.  But she was a Christmas present to my kids two years ago, and I can’t deny the fact that I am incredibly sad. 
It seems to me that it shouldn’t have been too hard for God to heal our dog, and I don’t understand why He didn’t. 

And then I start to think that maybe it’s been silly all of these years to pray anyway, because what good does it do, really? 
And then I think that it is probably really silly to find myself in the middle of a raging faith crisis over a dog.  It seems like such drama should be reserved for a bigger loss.  Or that my faith should be big enough to handle it. 

I know that I am being irrational and over reacting.  I know that God is not magic. 
This past Sunday, we made it back to church.  I barely heard the words coming out of my pastor’s mouth, and I believed even fewer of them. 

I am following my Lenten fast, but only because I don’t want to go back on my word. 
I’m finding it hard to pray for the lady in line behind me with the sad eyes, or for peace in my son’s monster-ravaged dreams, or even healing for our family’s grief-shredded hearts. 

The only thing I can pray right now is the morning office and, sometimes, compline.  I find comfort in the Psalms (from today’s morning office: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and will save those whose spirits are crushed”) and The Cry of the Church: “Lord, have mercy on us.  Christ, have mercy on us.  Lord, have mercy on us.”
We are living through Lent’s shadows this year in a way that perhaps I will look back on one day and understand its spiritual meaning. 

We have lost Leia.  We are living Lent.  I know we’ll be OK.  I know I will patch up my tattered faith one of these days.
...but in the meantime, we miss you, Leia Lou.



  1. I love the words of the petition--"Keep watch, dear Lord . . . " It is a blessing for me to realize that many were praying this prayer as my family watched and wept as my father died. That many are still praying--this prayer and others--whether I can or cannot pray at any given moment . . .

  2. i have prayed the petition for you since Leia died, too. I'm so sorry. So much love for you, Jill, and Amelie, and Jack, and Matt, too.